Niall Toolan was born in Lagos in Nigeria in 1955, and moved with his family to Dublin in 1960. From 1973 to 1977, he studied at the National College of Art & Design and received an Honours Diploma in Visual Communications. Since graduating, he worked as a designer in the fields of advertising, design for print and marketing, and as a designer for both film and television production. He was also a visiting lecturer in Visual Communications at the National College of Art and Design and the Dunlaoghaire College of Art from 1982 to 1987. Concurrent with these activities, he retained a keen interest in painting, particularly traditional watercolour. His first solo exhibition took place in Bray in 1987, and he exhibited in Coopers of Greystones from 1992 and Cherrylane Fine Arts in Wicklow. Since then, he has worked to commission and sold to private buyers both in Ireland and abroad before joining Oisín Gallery as a regular exhibitor.
Niall has a great affinity with Flemish Baroque painters, noting Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Dyck and Jordaens as particular influences. His paintings feature a variety of immaculately observed arrangements involving natural still-life objects, such as fruit, fish, rocks and feathers, positioned next to more atypical items, such as metallic vessels intertwined with sumptuous fabrics, phonograph horns, a Royal typewriter, antique coal irons and a manual Singer sewing machine. These paintings are executed in the vanitas style and although often contain objects symbolizing the fragility of earthly possessions and ephemeral nature of life, their appearance does not encourage a sombre view of the world. Instead, the artist has managed to create a sense of peace and silence using the genre of still life and occasionally trompe-l’oeil. The resultant tranquillity seems to overwhelm the viewer, and this is reinforced by his handling of light and shade which highlights the intricacy and delicacy of his work.